Here we go again. Seven months after Chris Paul suffered a right hamstring strain that knocked him out of the Western Conference Finals, the nine-time All-Star is back on the shelf with the same injury to his left hamstring.
Paul suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain on Dec. 20 against the Miami Heat and will reportedly be re-evaluated in two weeks. Head coach Mike D’Antoni said the day after the injury that Paul will miss “some time.” Here’s how it affects Paul, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets moving forward.
James Harden Looks Like MVP Candidate Again
Paul has missed 33 games (31 regular season, 2 postseason) since joining the Rockets at the beginning of last season. And while Houston is obviously a better team when he’s on the floor, James Harden’s numbers in those games are otherworldly.
The Beard is averaging 32.8 points, 10.2 assists and 3.9 3-pointers when Paul sits. One of those games included an historic 60-point, 10-rebound, 11-assist triple-double against the Orlando Magic last season. He’s on another level when he’s got the offense to himself, especially in a year when the Rockets have asked even more of him through their struggles.
Paul’s injury isn’t a long-term one, but his long-term health isn’t a sure thing once he returns. If his hamstring nags him all season and puts him on the bench one or two more times, Harden’s numbers will hover near MVP status. Don’t forget, he’s still the reigning MVP. And over his last eight games the Rockets are 7-1, with Harden averaging 38.5 points, 8.5 assists and 4.9 3-pointers.
Harden is still a long shot in NBA MVP betting, given Houston’s record (and the fact that winning back-to-back is difficult), but Paul’s injury means NBA betting fans should be taking an extra look at his +1000 odds on 888Sport. At the very least, his player prop totals look like good bets to go over while Paul is on the mend.
Are Rockets Hamstrung in West Race?
One would expect the über-aggressive Daryl Morey to swing a deal or two before the trade deadline in February. And the team did add Austin Rivers to the mix in the wake of Paul’s injury. Plus, if you’ve got Harden on your team you’ve got a chance.
But the Rockets face a serious uphill battle of contending in the West, a healthy Paul hamstring or not. They’re 18-15, which leads an uninspiring Southwest Division but is just seventh in the competitive Western Conference.
Paul will return well before the postseason, and the Rockets have plenty of time to right the ship, add a few pieces and turn around what was a year ago a 65-win campaign. Paul’s age and healthy will come into question, though. He’s 34, has battled hamstring injuries his entire career and even before the injury was averaging a career-low 15.6 points on 41.5% shooting.
888Sport still has the Rockets with the second-best odds to win the West (+700) and the fourth-best odds for those betting on the NBA Finals (+1300). At this point, betting on them is betting on a lot to go right between now and late May/early June.
Rockets Get Another Test in the Celtics On Thursday
That being said, the sky isn’t exactly falling. The Rockets earned a massive win on Christmas Day over the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder, and they’ve now won seven straight at home after beginning the year 4-5. They’ve also won seven of their last eight and are 6-1-1 in point spread betting in that span.
They now get a Celtics team that was equally impressive on Christmas Day, knocking off the 76ers in overtime. Kyrie Irving had 40 in that one, and we should be in line for a battle of the point guards once again.
Still, it’s tough to bet against Harden the way he’s playing and how dominant the Rockets have been in H-Town. We expect that to continue Thursday night, and both Harden and Irving should fly past their player props for points.